Bush Warns Congress Not to Interfere on Iraq

President Bush warns Congress not to contest his authority to prosecute the war in Iraq as he sees fit. Speaking at an hourlong news conference at the White House, the president also touted the latest agreement with North Korea, meant to limit its nuclear weapons program.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Bush said today that Iran has sent sophisticated weapons into Iraq, weapons used against American troops. But he said it is unclear if the top-levels of the Iranian government are involved. In his first news conference of the year, the president warned lawmakers on Capitol Hill not to cut off funding for his troop increase in Iraq. He also took credit for the new nuclear deal with North Korea, but he cautioned that North Korea must now prove that they're in fact dismantling their nuclear program. In a few minutes we'll hear about the elite Iranian force that the president says is working inside Iraq.

First, NPR's David Greene begins our coverage from the White House.

DAVID GREENE: The president called the nuclear agreement with North Korea unique, although in many respects it parallels another reached in 1994 by President Clinton. In exchange for shutting down its primary reactor, North Korea will be getting economic aid, as it did after the 1994 agreement. But Mr. Bush insisted that what sets this agreement apart is that he's brought other countries, like China and South Korea on board, to help hold Pyongyang accountable.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We had a breakthrough as a result of other voices than the United States saying to the North Koreans we don't support your nuclear weapons program and we urge you to get rid of it in a verifiable way.

GREENE: Among those who still doubt North Korea's word is John Bolton, until recently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton says North Korea is sure to deceive its neighbors just as it has deceived the U.S., to which Mr. Bush responded -

President BUSH: I strongly disagree, strongly disagree with his assessment.

GREENE: For the president to rebuke a former adviser was surprising. After all, the Bush White House prides itself on keeping people on message, even officials who've recently left. But the administration has struggled this week with its message on Iran as well. The White House and military briefers in Baghdad had accused people at the highest levels of Iran's government of approving shipments of high-grade weapons to certain factions in Iraq.

But then, General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was not clear that top officials in Iran were involved. Mr. Bush was asked today to sort this out, and he acknowledged that Pace is right, it's not clear Iran's leadership is pushing weaponry into Iraq. But the president said he's sure an arm of Iran's revolutionary guard, the Quds Force, has been getting materials to Iraq.

President BUSH: We know they're there. We know they've provided by the Quds Force. We know the Quds Force is a party of the Iranian government. I think we know that who picked up the phone and said the Quds Force, go do this, well, we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government. What matters is that we're responding.

GREENE: The president was also asked to respond to a recent combined intelligence report from all the U.S. spy agencies that called the conflict in Iraq a civil war.

President BUSH: No matter what you call it it's a complex situation and it needed to be dealt with inside of Iraq. We've got people who say civil war. We've got people on the ground who don't believe it's a civil war. But nevertheless, it was dangerous enough that I had to make a decision to try to stop it.

GREENE: His decision to send more troops to Baghdad is the subject of a week long debate in the House right now. Mr. Bush said the lawmakers are free to express their views, but he warned them to watch what they say.

President BUSH: The Iraqi people listen to the words, the Iranians, people are wondering. They're wondering about our commitment to this cause.

GREENE: That's the kind of warning Democrats haven't appreciated, but the president said one thing about Iraq the opposition will likely agree on.

President BUSH: I can talk all day long. But what really matters to the American people is to see progress.

David Greene, NPR News, The White House.

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Bush Dismisses Doubts on Iran's Role in Iraq

Listen: Full Bush News Conference

President Bush during a news conference i i

President Bush speaks during a press conference in the East Room of the White House. The president discussed North Korea, the House debate on Iraq policy, and claims about Iran's role in Iraq during the nearly hour-long event. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
President Bush during a news conference

President Bush speaks during a press conference in the East Room of the White House. The president discussed North Korea, the House debate on Iraq policy, and claims about Iran's role in Iraq during the nearly hour-long event.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Bush on Wednesday declared that the multi-party talks that led to an agreement designed to end North Korea's nuclear program represented "good progress" and a "step in the right direction," but he acknowledged there was more to be done.

In a morning news conference that lasted nearly an hour, Mr. Bush also dealt with questions regarding his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the ongoing debate in the House over the conduct of the war in Iraq, and the administration's claim that Iran is responsible for weapons used in Iraq by Shiite groups to kill U.S. troops.

There has been an ongoing debate within the administration regarding the role of the Iranian government in Iraq, and the growing number of roadside bombs that are killing Americans at a rapid rate. U.S. intelligence has linked the bombs to the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The conclusion by the White House is that the Quds Force is getting its marching orders from the leaders in Tehran, but Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said he was not ready to make that connection.

Mr. Bush said Wednesday that whether or not it can be proven that the Iranian government was directly involved, the fact remains that the weapons are in Iraq and are killing Americans, and that he, the president, is "going to do something about it." A more pointed question, whether the administration was getting the same kind of faulty intelligence about Iran that it got during the "weapons of mass destruction" debate in Iraq – and whether the intelligence was being manipulated as a "pretext to war" — was also dismissed by the president as missing the point.

"What's worse," Mr. Bush asked, "them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening?"

Asked about the fact that many of America's allies are involved in major trade deals with Iran, the president shrugged and said, "Money trumps peace sometimes." But he said he still expected allies to stand together in resisting Iran's ambitions as a nuclear power.

Regarding the debate in the House this week over a Democratic non-binding resolution that disapproves of the president's decision to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq, Mr. Bush said it was his "hope" that it didn't lead to a binding vote that would cut funding for the troops. The president mentioned the seeming contradiction of an overwhelming Senate vote to confirm Gen. David Patraeus, the new chief commander of U.S. forces in the region, and the anticipated vote to disapprove of the new war policy ... "before it has a chance to work," he added.

Mr. Bush said he recently spoke to Patraeus, who told him that the new war plan is "beginning to take shape" – though, as he has done before, the president said securing Baghdad "will take time." He also refused to be drawn into a discussion as to whether Friday's antiwar policy vote in the House "sends a message to" or "emboldens" the enemy.

But President Bush did say that pulling back would lead to "disastrous consequences:" "If we failed there, the enemy will follow us here." It was the same argument that House Minority Leader John Boehner made Tuesday on the House floor during the Iraq resolution debate.

Back to North Korea, Mr. Bush said he "strongly disagrees" with John Bolton, his former acting U.N. ambassador, who criticized the recently announced deal to end Pyongyang's nuclear program as weak. Bolton's assessment was "flat wrong," the president said, though he acknowledged that all sides must make sure to "follow through" with making it stick.

In other news coming out of the news conference:

  • The president acknowledged that he and Russian President Putin have a "complicated relationship." But despite Putin's recent and growing criticism of America's role in the world, Mr. Bush said the two have worked together on a number of key issues, such as North Korea and nuclear proliferation.
  • Mr. Bush was asked, as he has been in the past, whether he considers the situation in Iraq to be a "civil war." He said it was hard to give an assessment, as he has spoken to some who feel it is and others who don't.
  • He was questioned about troop morale and whether it was declining, given the fact that some troops in Iraq are going through second, third and even fourth tours of duty. The President said it was his understanding that troop morale was good but that a lot of concern was coming from loved ones back in the United States. He said more than once that he appreciates the sacrifice that is being made.
  • The president completely refused to address a question about the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Mr. Bush would not speak to a question about pardoning Libby in the event the former aide is convicted.
  • A question about how Iraq might play in the 2008 presidential election, or whether Mr. Bush will brief the various presidential candidates about what's going on there, elicited a response that the President would "resist the temptation to be pundit-in-chief" – though that's not what the questioner asked.
  • And asked about where he and the Democrats might find common ground in the final two years of his term, Mr. Bush talked about balancing the federal budget, overhauling national policy on immigration, energy policy and health care, and renewing the "No Child Left Behind" program.

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